Best Music Spotlight

What is the Fair Trade Music International Initiative?

Photograph of the blog post author, Mary Woodcock

Mary Woodcock


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The Fair Trade Music International (FTMI) initiative came about in response to deficiencies in the way music is distributed and how music creators are compensated. Conceptualized in 2007, Fair Trade Music represents many tens of thousands of songwriters, composers, and musical artists from all over the world.

But what is Fair Trade Music and what relevance does it have in the current musical landscape?

The answer to that question is tied to a significant fall in revenue for music rights holders over the past decade and a 2014 study commissioned by the International Council of Music Creators (CIAM).

In the CIAM study, the findings showed that streaming services, including YouTube and Spotify, pay music creators smaller and smaller remuneration amounts for their music while listener consumption has increased. Furthermore, the small payments made by these streaming services often do not make it all the way along the value chain to the performers and creators. Hence, the Fair Trade Music model was created to ensure fair remuneration and transparency in payments to all players along the entire music value chain.

The story of the Fair Trade Music International initiative originated when Professor Jeremy DeBeer introduced the fair trade value chain business model to some of his Law students at the University of Ottawa in 2007. DeBeer’s was inspired by the Fair Trade Coffee movement success in the agricultural market because of the model’s simplicity as easy to understand and follow for both consumers and creators.

Among DeBeer’s students was Wide Mouth Mason’s band member Safwan Javed, upon graduation Safwan joined the Songwriters’ Association of Canada Board of Directors in 2010, and introduced the fair trade music value chain concept to the S.A.C. Board, the galvanizing force behind Fair Trade Music International. In 2015, Fair Trade Music International was launched as a not-for-profit organization.  Two years later, the music creation organizations in Canada and the USA joined together to form Music Creators North America (MCNA) and Fair Trade Music International went global. Today Fair Trade Music International is endorsed by over 500,000 music creators: From North, South, and Latin America, as well as from Africa and Europe.


So, how does Fair Trade Music International certification work?

Currently, Fair Trade Music International provides independent, third-party certification for recorded music releases that meet a qualifying standard, based on a Release Criteria developed specifically for music releases: Release Criteria sets forth the requirements for music releases to be produced and distributed in a fair and transparent way including fair remuneration and revenues due to all performers and creators who are part of the production.

In the future, the goal of Fair Trade Music International is to provide criteria to anyone in the music value chain, including songwriters, record labels, artists, distributors or streaming company, for which they can apply for third-party Fair Trade Music International certification. Once certified, the Fair Trade Music International certification seal is displayed on releases, including album covers, digital downloads, and merchandise. The certification seal will show that you uphold fair trade best practices but will help consumers make better choices about supporting you and your ethically distributed and fairly remunerated music. For more information about Fair Trade Music International visit their website at

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